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European Projects

7 May 2019 by COMPACT Project

COMPACT Project: State of the art: research on convergence and social media


             


Research findings

This report by COMPACT project aims at enhancing awareness about the latest scientific discoveries – state of the art research on social media and convergence – among key stakeholders in the context of social media and convergence. For this purpose, we have gone through over 1,200 mostly academic articles dealing with convergence and social media, published in more than 20 EU and non-EU countries between 2013 and 2017 and in some cases beyond.

Main research findings

The most dominant issue that researchers encountered seems to be conflict and integration/merger of legacy and new media functions. The second most frequently tackled relationship is between private and public roles and issues. This latter issue was reflected in studies on personal data, protection of minors, libel and hate-related issues. Producer-consumer relationship is the third most often researched issue.

Individuals and technology companies have become much more important curators of information and news than they were before. However, the legacy media – mostly audio-visual media and media websites – have a significant role to play. In fact, the news that is most read, shared, and discussed in social media is produced by professional news organisations. In particular, the profession of journalist is very much needed for the society.

Especially in North-Central Europe (Germany, Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland), the shift to convergence culture was impeded by a long and strong tradition of print journalism. Spanish and Portuguese news managers demonstrate more diverse strategic approaches to adapting to the possibilities of new media environments. They implemented new editorial routines with more effort and made use of new formats and trans-media storytelling.

Convergence, implemented primarily as a cost effective strategy, does not promote better journalism. Facebook, in particular, seems to push news media organisations to replace their ‘editorial logic’ by an ‘algorithmic logic’ for the presentation of news. On the one hand, the immediacy of Twitter enhances journalists´ awareness and anticipation capabilities, as well as enables to convert on-site capital into discursive authority in the public sphere. On the other hand, the paralysis, which seizes the press in times when important decisions are impending, gets intensified through Twitter and can lead to inconsistencies and misperceptions in media reporting.

Policy recommendations

Impacts of convergence of specific social media should be researched within particular national contexts.

Convergence of social media is primarily the outcome of technology (software and hardware) development. However, wider use of social media may be influenced by business decisions, further shaped by cultural factors as well as political decisions. For example, personal data protection findings suggest that ICTs have the tendency to launch their own practices rather than to “follow” the regulatory (pre) choices of the legislator. Yet technical solutions cannot substitute the law.

Any planned regulatory policies targeting the consequences of converged social media should pay heed to these national specifics in social media usage. For example, it seems extremely challenging to regulate Snapchat, Telegram and Instagram via traditional regulatory mechanisms.

Using notice-and-notice for intellectual property rights’ infringement, notice-wait-and-takedown for defamation and notice-and-takedown combined with occasional notice-and-suspension for hate speech is highly recommended. As an added possibility, notice-and-judicial-takedown should be available in all cases. Obviously, other combinations covering additional areas of law can be envisioned.

There is a three-layered approach to online privacy policies which provides a simple framework for businesses to use. The seven possible privacy policies that could be generated from the questions posed. An icon, a capital P with a number from one to six, designates each option.

The most relevant regulatory solutions for social media seem to be suggestions by the European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services (ERGA). ERGA suggests reviewing the regulatory distinction made between linear and non-linear content. Moreover, it suggests to have different severity of control mechanisms for content access (‘might seriously impair’ versus “is likely to impair’ “. In fact, ERGA suggests to consider setting default restrictions for content that ‘might seriously impair’ across all services. As far as regulatory mechanisms are concerned, ERGA prefers maintaining the role of state regulation to ensure that content that ‘might seriously impair’ is restricted to minors on linear and non-linear audio-visual content. However, ERGA is also encouraging effective co-regulation (backed by statute) where appropriate.

Social scientists and especially lawyers should focus at some specific regulatory issues such as blockchain, similarly to those a few already lightly tackles such as banking sector secrets, revision of AVMSD, right to free assembly, cyber surveillance at workplace, pre-employment background checks on social networking sites, cyber-bullying, emergency communication, violence on social networks and digital policy.

Since individuals and technology companies have become much more important curators of information and news than they were before, the current attention to policies regarding platforms in general, and social media in particular, seem to be socially and politically justified.

Rather than anonymous treatment, social media users call for a person-centered approach.

Considering that parents, especially mothers do not often express concern regarding privacy of their children and they usually use social media to underline their role as parent, a specific public education campaign should target mothers in this respect.

More attention among EU and national governments should be paid to Twitter as a tool in communicating via, and in monitoring, national and international reporting.

More attention among EU and national governments should be paid to integrating social media as tools into learning processes in schools.

Employment policies and protection at work needs to include measures against negative sides of social media use, such as escalating engagement, pervasive interruptions or social overload.

Executive summary

This report aims at enhancing awareness about the latest scientific discoveries – state of the art research on social media and convergence – among key stakeholders in the context of social media and convergence. For this purpose, we have gone through over 1,200 mostly academic articles dealing with convergence and social media, published in more than 20 EU and non-EU countries between 2013 and 2017 and in some cases beyond. The study will present statistical data on social media and convergence along with summary of the most relevant findings and recommendations in specific categories.

Overall, East European authors publish more research articles, but the quality of their academic output on social media and convergence is much lower as compared to their West European counterparts.

On the one hand, the researchers in our sample by and large missed to give due consideration to the trends in the social media use. On the other hand, there is a slight tilt towards applied research used by researchers in our sample which suggests practical focus of majority of research. YouTube, usually the second most popular social media, was heavily under-researched as compared to the research on Facebook. Moreover, some arguably important pairs of convergence phenomena have been ignored in majority of cases of specific social media. Interpersonal human relations as well as ICT seem to be two major sectors identified within research on social media and convergence.

Impacts of convergence of specific social media should be researched within particular national contexts. Convergence of social media is primarily the outcome of technology (software and hardware) development. However, wider use of social media may be influenced by business decisions, further shaped by cultural factors as well as political decisions. This helps in elucidating diverse usage of selected social media in some countries. In particular, the discussion about popularity of specific social media among EU countries highlights important but not so often discussed convergence aspects. In some unique cases, an older news social network managed to survive while adapting to a new challenge by copying features from the new challenging social media (the case of Slovakia). In other cases, the success of social media networking sites was determined by business decisions (a pilot investment) combined with national habits in communication or acquisition of a social media application and its amalgamation with a major social media platform, which did not suit many users, supported by marketing campaigns (the cases of Greece and of Croatia). Furthermore, there are trends among young people that reflect changing usage preferences as indicated in UK and Ireland for Snapchat and Instagram social media. In contrast, as mentioned earlier, trends among older people (or general higher usage of the Internet) seem to explain high popularity of Google+ in Malta. Of course, these are tentative findings and deserve more detailed research and explanations. Nevertheless, any planned regulatory policies targeting the consequences of converged social media should pay heed to these national specifics in social media usage. For example, it seems extremely challenging to regulate Snapchat, Telegram and Instagram via traditional regulatory mechanisms.

About two thirds of research articles on social media and convergence do not take care of any regulatory issues. Marginally, we have identified specific regulatory issues such as banking sector secrets, revision of AVMSD, right to free assembly, cyber surveillance at workplace, pre-employment background checks on social networking sites, cyber-bullying, emergency communication, violence on social networks and digital policy.

The most frequent purpose that social media served in our research sample encompassed providing information followed by marketing, connections and education. The third most frequent purpose could be identified research on technology. Finally, there were some hints of considering hobby/entertainment as purpose.

Clearly, public and state funding, including public-private sector, represents majority of investments (about two thirds of all research and almost everything among all identifiable funding) in research on social media and convergence. However, it is almost certain that besides some surveys among social media users, private sector financed research mainly focused on technology and marketing. Therefore, these data represent more funding sources among academics than overview of general research on social media and convergence. It is not a surprise that about 90% authors are affiliated with a university.

The most dominant issue that researchers encountered seems to be conflict and integration/merger of legacy and new media functions. This has to do with the longest tradition and major impact of convergence in this area, but it may be – again – influenced by research background of our colleagues who are mostly from social studies and humanities. The second most frequently tackled relationship is between private and public roles and issues. This was reflected in studies on personal data, protection of minors, libel and hate-related issues. Producer-consumer relationship is the third most often researched issue. This comes mainly from marketing studies, but partly also from focus on Facebook and YouTube along with other social media that allow production as well as consumption of social media.

Convergence between legacy and social media has resulted in following findings. Social media brought new qualities to the news. They are “more immediate, more diverse (hybridity) and broader (fragmentation) and have more sources, better accessibility”, with less exclusive news and often less partisan focus. The audiences select their new media platforms and nature of their participation according to their existing beliefs and attitudes just like they do with traditional media. However, there are two traits that the digital media do not share with legacy media: (1) the establishment of echo chambers to a greater extent than the latter do and (2) the enhancement of interpersonal communication. This is modifying the nature and interpretation of agenda setting and framing of the news and information that is disseminated. Individuals and technology companies have become much more important curators of information and news than they were before. However, the legacy media – mostly audio-visual media and media websites – have a significant role to play. In fact, the news that is most read, shared, and discussed in social media is produced by professional news organisations.1In particular, the profession of journalist is very much needed for the society. Moreover, consumption of news from information/news websites appears to be positively associated with higher trust, while access to information available on social media is linked with lower trust. Nevertheless, other research puts forward that perceived media bias has a negative impact on all news without distinction between news in traditional, citizen or social media.

Many media companies have chosen convergent as well as cross-platform solutions for their online products. For example, the online edition encourages readers to buy the printed version since it remains the primary source of income. On the other hand, the printed version recommends visiting the website for watching audio-visual stuff there. Especially in North-Central Europe (Germany, Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland), the shift to convergence culture was impeded by a long and strong tradition of print journalism. Spanish and Portuguese news managers demonstrate more diverse strategic approaches to adapting to the possibilities of new media environments. They implemented new editorial routines with more effort and made use of new formats and trans-media storytelling. Additionally, journalists utilise Twitter to directly convert on-site capital into discursive authority in the public sphere. As a result, there is the multitude of layers of communication and modes of anticipation which can lead to communication inconsistencies and misperceptions.

The journalists tend to consider that social networks offer indicators / guides for searching the information than products ready to use. Social networking sites seem to provide journalists quick and easy access to a range of sources not readily and immediately available on any media other than social media. Yet social media hamper journalism practice in limiting exclusivity of news. For example, there is the proliferation of news organisations that are virtuously acting as curators by finding breaking news stories on social media and simply verifying it. Convergence, implemented primarily as a cost effective strategy, does not promote better journalism. Facebook, in particular, seems to push news media organisations to replace their ‘editorial logic’ by an ‘algorithmic logic’ for the presentation of news. On the one hand, the immediacy of Twitter enhances journalists´ awareness and anticipation capabilities, as well as enables to convert on-site capital into discursive authority in the public sphere. On the other hand, the paralysis, which seizes the press in times when important decisions are impending, gets intensified through Twitter and can lead to inconsistencies and misperceptions.

The relationship of convergence – producer / consumer – tackled variety of issues such as conceptual issues, relationships between producers and consumers, campaigns and public communication, media businesses and social media, impacts on health of social media users, ethical aspects of data mining and data protection, public administration and social media as well as legal issues.

In general, rather than enhancing life satisfaction, social media seem to foster materialism and dissatisfaction with life in general. There is evolving conceptual terminology. One study has identified six groups of media prosumers: no prosumers, mature prosumers, Millenial prosumers, teenager prosumers, passive prosumers and proactive prosumers. Others describe the concepts of participation in terms of action and achievement focus – the media target group (media audience), the marketing target group (“marketing audience”, consumers) and the companies themselves. Within the audience research, through the issue of audience participation, there has been an attempt to further develop the concept of “the dispositive”. The space of the encounter is neither work nor home but it also less public than third places, because social media are confined to small groups of more sustained relationships. In short, social media uses constitute tethered togetherness. There is also a lot of research and discussion on conceptual terminology related to marketing.

There is limited research aiming at technological solutions. However, these are in embryotic phase and are numerically rare here just to lead to sound recommendations or summative findings.

Discussions on relationships between producers and consumers in business suggest that social media seemed to play relatively marginal role in business with the exception of Facebook (at least until recently) and Google.com. However, one-sided brand-to-consumer communication is now complemented by consumer-to-brand and consumer-to-consumer communication. Interactions become a fundamental element driven and initiated by consumers and buyers. Some research is sceptical about social media power. Allegedly, it is the personality of the users that determines the willingness to receive marketing communication messages. It makes sense that the communication on the social network is valuable if the fans respond actively to a range of products and recommend them further. In reality, the activity of consumers is mostly accomplished by pressing the “like” button, yet the companies work against this tendency by producing the properly positioned, activity-promoting content. Apparently, a company’s ability to maintain trust becomes a key differentiator.

The results of campaigns and public communication illustrate that especially a high company reputation leads to an increased willingness to click on the “Like” button. Two general contradicting trends appear; going local and going global. On the one hand, FDI and online networking converge into international corporations. On the other hand, some companies pursue a local strategy in corporate social media campaigns.

The tentative summary of results of research on convergence between playing and labour/professional activities advocates that a successful engagement of social media as a component of a productive convergence in organisations can be facilitated if employees benefit from the provided content as well as process. Effects of leveraging social networks for knowledge co-construction in an organisation were found mostly positive, but also with certain trap created by possible premature knowledge consolidation mostly based on individual preparation. The intensity and methods of exploiting social media in corporate communication vary depending on the country.

Both working comfort and affectivity of knowledge workers suffer from negative sides of convergent social media use, such as escalating engagement, pervasive interruptions or social overload. These collaborators need to be supported in developing measures against mentioned odds.

As digital media and social networks are integral part of life for vast majority of students and pupils, integrating these technologies as tools into learning processes in schools is a big topic, EU-wide and worldwide, researched by many scholars. Most of them perceive this path as inevitable, but with many challenges. For example, open education using social media necessitates proper intercultural understanding. Furthermore, social aspects, personality and general internet skills are among the most determining factors about to what extent social media are used for learning in a specific university environment. The younger generation prefers independent learning and interactivity of social media. Thus, it has to be made more aware of respect to copyright and intellectual property. Student groups systematically connected via social media, serving educational purposes, are able to self-organise themselves and quickly adapt to organisational or subject-related challenges posed by the curriculum. Classical textbooks are often replaced in their role by social media. Video-blogs are a very popular (in some countries dominant) form of self-presentation of millennials; there is often a shift from amateurish videos to sophisticated video-shows made already with professional intentions.

Personal data protection findings suggest that ICTs have the tendency to launch their own practices rather than to “follow” the regulatory (pre) choices of the legislator. Yet technical solutions cannot substitute the law. Perhaps a bit paradoxically, if privacy was threatened in an offline sphere, there was a much stronger and more intense resistance among the sample people than online using smartphones. The younger „generation Z“ expresses the strongest desire to protect their personal data. The contemporary practice of employee screening through social media can highly impact the hiring decision and legal implications are likely to arise with the wrong use of information. However, there are different legal approaches – a more liberal in Estonia and more focused on personal data protection in majority of other countries surveyed. In the phase of hiring, the prospective employee’s rights should prevail. The question of social media monitoring during working hours is relatively well regulated by computer/Internet monitoring. There seem to be open questions regarding the level of protection of the personal data of civil servants who frequently come into contact with criminal environments. Although the protection of personal data, in most cases, against a leak is desirable, there could be a legal interest, in some situations, to reveal the identity of social media users. There is a particular problematic aspect in this area in Slovenia.

Using notice-and-notice for intellectual property rights’ infringement, notice-wait-and-takedown for defamation and notice-and-takedown combined with occasional notice-and-suspension for hate speech is highly recommended. As an added possibility, notice-and-judicial-takedown should be available in all cases. Obviously, other combinations covering additional areas of law can be envisioned.

The findings for protection of minors seem to be rather obsolete, trivial or too narrow in their focus. There are two interesting findings. Firstly, the mothers do not often express concern regarding privacy of their children and they usually use social media to underline their role as mother. While there are laws about individual rights, they are not usually enforced by mothers themselves in the case of child photos on social media. Secondly, there are two parental mediation strategies for kids’ online safety in Europe. Enabling mediation is associated with increased online opportunities besides the risks involved. This strategy incorporates safety efforts, responds to child agency and is employed when the parent or child is relatively digitally skilled. Restrictive mediation is associated with fewer online risks, but at the cost of opportunities, reflecting policy advice that regards media use as primarily problematic. It is favoured when digital skills of parent or child are lower, potentially keeping vulnerable children safe yet undermining their digital inclusion. Interestingly, parents mostly favour active safety mediation along with responsiveness to child-initiated support. Restrictive mediation is favoured with the help of monitoring, restrictions and technical controls.

The most relevant regulatory solutions seem to be suggestions by the European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services (ERGA). ERGA suggests reviewing the regulatory distinction made between linear and non-linear content. Moreover, it suggests to have different severity of control mechanisms for content access (‘might seriously impair’ versus “is likely to impair’ “. In fact, ERGA suggests to consider setting default restrictions for content that ‘might seriously impair’ across all services. As far as regulatory mechanisms are concerned, ERGA prefers maintaining the role of state regulation to ensure that content that ‘might seriously impair’ is restricted to minors on linear and non-linear audio-visual content. However, ERGA is also encouraging effective co-regulation (backed by statute) where appropriate.

A complex of issues targeting hate speech, disinformation, libel and terrorism advocates that the problem with fake news is that there is occasional but strong interaction on selected false/fake items disseminated via Facebook. Facebook posts can be classified with high accuracy as hoaxes or non-hoaxes on the basis of the users who “liked” them. There is a danger of criminalisation of such activity. Some suggest that steadily pressing FB reaction buttons should not be qualified as criminal offence. Instead, there could be three possible de lega ferenda solutions. Computational dynamic discourse analysis substantiates that besides successfully manipulating public opinion on social media, the authorities can disempower critics. It is also possible with quite high prediction to automatically discover the perspectives of opposing political parties on a given set of issues and to identify the underlying contentious frames from one camp that might lead to a debate. It is also possible to utilise identified frames as features to predict whether a temporal spike (i.e. a relatively higher volume of documents during a fixed period of time) from one camp will trigger a reaction from the other camp. Rather than anonymous treatment, social media users call for a person-cantered approach. It is challenging to promote young people’s awareness through active methods of teaching and learning or through media content which is far from young people’s experience, interests and concerns.

There are legal – human rights – issue with self-regulatory approaches tackling hate speech at a local level. There are factors such as the relevance of digital divides, media systems and institutional settings that help us elucidate the relationship between digital media and political participation. Technology companies should provide metadata to researchers for further analysis of disinformation disorder, working on solutions specifically aimed at minimising the impacts of filter bubble and building fact-checking and verification tools.

Interaction of democracy and converged social media puts forward that besides significantly affecting journalistic work and labour relationships, social media development has impacted the level of revenue generation for legacy media. The digital transition (growth of online news and move to digital terrestrial television) has only limited implications for the pluralism of information within some media systems. The digital transition is significantly impacting the power relations between broadcasters and newspaper organisations in the online news market. Copyright protection rules may be a chance for less important websites to draw attention of users.

Twiplomacy can help a small country in building its image and argue for its interests, but such communication strategy should be coordinated.

Consumption of news from information/news websites is positively associated with higher trust, while access to information available on social media is linked with lower trust.

Read full document here: State of the art: research on convergence and social media

Authors: Andrej Školkay (the key author), Ľubica Adamcová, Juraj Filin, Veronika Vighová, Igor Daniš

Contributors: The Insight institute at NUI Galway, Ireland, The European Digital SME Alliance, Belgium, Jozef Stefan Institute, Slovenia, Ontotext Corp, Bulgaria, Agency of European Innovations, Ukraine, Media 21 Foundation, Bulgaria, The Research Centre for Communication and Culture at Catholic University of Portugal, Partnership for Social Development, Croatia, The University of Latvia, Latvia, The Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, Greece and Mediaframe Ltd, UK

Internal International Reviewer: Dr Bissera Zankova, M21 Foundation, Bulgaria

* Support and disclaimers:
- This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 762128.
- This publication reflects only the author's view and the Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.